Whether you plan on spending the last few days of the year relaxing in front of the screen for some well-deserved rest, or plotting out your next travel adventure for 2024, there’s nothing like some armchair traveling to get you inspired. 

From the dunes of the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass, to the jungles of Costa Rica and ancient ruins of Sicily, here’s a look back at some of the best TV and film releases of 2023 that sparked our travel imagination.

The Reluctant Traveler with Eugene Levy

Costa Rica, Maldives, Finland, South Africa

The premise seems counterproductive at first: hiring an actor who openly acknowledges that he shuns adventure and doesn’t like to step beyond his comfort zone, to host a travel show. Except, of course, when that host is Eugene Levy, the co-creator of the Emmy-Award winning Schitt’s Creek.

Over eight episodes, we watch the crotchety but endearing host (a bit we’re already familiar with through the likes of Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay) ice float in Finland, preside over a sumo match in Tokyo, and tackle his lifelong fear of heights on a suspension bridge over the Costa Rican jungle and in a helicopter ride above the canyons of Utah. Other destinations include Venice, the Maldives, Lisbon, and South Africa. Expect Levy’s trademark deadpan humor, some seriously extravagant hotel stays and breakout moments of Levy’s warmth and authenticity when connecting with locals. Season Two is currently in the works.

Watch on AppleTV+.

A still from "Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1" with Tom Cruise on a motorbike in Rome
Tom Cruise enjoyed a world tour in "Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1" © Mission Impossible / Alamy Stock Photo

Mission Impossible: Dead Reckoning Part 1

Abu Dhabi, Italy, Norway

Director Christopher McQuarrie said of the latest installment of the Mission Impossible franchise, that the goal was to make a “bigger film, more global film”. Consequently, some of the biggest action sequences take place in settings like the sand dunes and salt flats of the Empty Quarter in Abu Dhabi (the world’s largest uninterrupted sand mass), the streets of Rome and the canals of Venice.

A dramatic train sequence also gives center stage to the Rauma Railway in Norway, which travels along the Kylling Bridge and is often described as the most beautiful train ride in Norway. But it’s the Helsetkopen Mountain in Norway that gets the big spotlight, when Tom Cruise famously accomplished what the movie studio described as the “biggest stunt in cinema history” by jumping off the cliff on a motorcycle, and turning it into a base jump. Not once, but six times. Verdict? Mission accomplished (you saw that coming).

Watch on Amazon Prime, YouTube Movies and TV, AppleTV and Google Play.

Still from "Rainn Wilson and the Geography of Bliss" featuring Rainn in a kitchen with a smiling, elderly woman
Rainn Wilson on location in Bulgaria in "Rainn Wilson and the Geography of Bliss" © NBC / Peacock

Rainn Wilson and the Geography of Bliss

Iceland, Bulgaria, Thailand, Ghana, LA

You could say that this series brings those yearly “world’s happiest places” rankings to life. Hosted by Rainn Wilson, best known for his role as Dwight Shrute from The Office, the five-part docuseries takes the actor – who speaks candidly about his battles with depression and anxiety – to places that cover both spectrums of the happiness index in order to try and decode what makes some people and places happier than others.

The soul-searching journey takes him to Iceland which, along with other Nordic countries, consistently tops the “world’s happiest places” lists, where he swims naked in a hot spring and downs a bottle of cod liver oil. But he also visits Bulgaria which ranks low on happiness indices, where he tries to find insight into Bulgarian sadness, and his own. The series is based on the book The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World by former NPR correspondent Eric Weiner.

Watch on Peacock.

Aerial shot of wildebeest on migration in the Serengeti
Wildebeest on migration in "Our Planet II" © Our Planet 2 courtesy photo

Our Planet II

New Zealand, China, India, Haida Gwaii, Botswana, the Arctic

Remember those viral, heart-pinching drone images capturing a family of elephants sleeping in an exhausted stupor on the ground in China? In the Netflix series Our Planet II, we follow the herd as they make an epic 17-month, 300-mile journey across China in search of a new home, just one of the many incredible animal migration tales explored in the wildlife documentary narrated by the world’s favorite British broadcaster and natural historian David Attenborough.

Over four episodes, viewers are privy to some of the most extraordinary animal migrations on earth, including the crossing of a million wildebeest and zebra over the Serengeti, and Cape buffalo in Botswana. Chapter three also tells the compelling story of the wild elephants who captured the world’s attention in 2020 when they were driven out of their forest due to drought and wandered unwittingly into Chinese cities and towns. And as all good wildlife documentaries do, viewers are left understanding the ever-pressing need to preserve and protect the planet’s wildlife and the importance of sharing resources.

Watch on Netflix.

Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) in Lucasfilm Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny
Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) and Helena (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) in "Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny" – a movie that has us eyeing up trips to Italy, Morocco and Scotland © Lucasfilm Ltd.

Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny

Morocco, Sicily, Scotland

In the final installment of the Indiana Jones series (with Harrison Ford as the titular character), the storyline sends the swashbuckling archaeologist hero, in true Indie fashion, to scenic and mysterious corners of the world. Real-world location shootings this time include Morocco, scene of a wild street chase that involved a dozen tuk-tuks (like motorized rickshaws), cars and motorcycles kicking up dust in the streets of Fez, and the Leaderfoot Viaduct in the Scottish Borders, where the prologue was filmed.

Sicily also played a big role in the film. The island’s ancient ruins starred as archaeological temple sites, and its limestone cave, Ear of Dionysius, shaped like a human ear, played the part of Archimedes' Tomb.

Watch on Disney+, YouTube Movies and TV, AppleTV and Amazon Prime.

This article was first published June 2019 and updated December 2023

Explore related stories

San Francisco, USA. 7th Jan, 2018. A woman visits the Asian Art Museum on Free Sunday in San Francisco, the United States, Jan. 7, 2018

Art

12 essential sites to learn about Asian American history

Apr 10, 2024 • 8 min read